Oliver's phone rang, his unlisted landline instead of his iPhone. Everyone Oliver knew well enough to call him rang his cell. Except—he squinted at the display.
It was from the prison, but it wasn’t an extension he recognized.
He squared his shoulders before he picked it up. He’d been dreading the possibility of a call like this. He was probably going to be informed that Haynes was pressing charges. Or maybe Haynes was going to try to ruin him in some other way. Oliver wouldn't put anything past him.
He snapped it up, then forced himself not to sound clipped. “Yes?”
"Baumer? It’s Franks.”
Jason Franks, one of the guards. One of the decent ones. "Hello. How are y—"
"Look, you didn't hear it from me, but something went down the other day I thought you'd want to know about."
Before Franks hung up Oliver was trembling with the helpless rage he wanted to scream out. He wanted to punch the wall, punch anything within reach, but sat still with his palm smashed against the receiver so Franks couldn't hear any sounds he didn't mean to make.
Oliver paced, wringing his hands, glancing at his phone every couple of minutes, willing it to light up and make some god damn noise. Ashley had called him while he'd still been shaking from talking to Jason Franks. Not that he’d had much chance to talk, since Franks told him what happened and hung up without letting him even ask a question.
Ashley had confirmed everything Franks had told him, told him Eric seemed to be okay, and said Neville was going to call him. Ashley felt he ought to call and smooth the way a little since Oliver and Neville weren’t exactly chat buddies. Oliver couldn't disagree with his reasoning.
He hadn’t asked Ashley how Neville got his number. He didn’t care, but instead was grateful that Neville was so resourceful.
His call from Ashley had been an hour ago. His skin itched while he waited for Neville to call. He braced himself for the verbal abuse Neville handed out like a kind uncle might hand out candy. Hell, maybe Neville would even blame him, like his leaving somehow let it happen.
Wasn’t like Oliver hadn’t hadn't similar thoughts.
And it wasn't like Oliver had thought of much besides Eric since the day they met. He'd been drawn to him immediately, and had worked hard to try and make sure the connection he felt didn't show to everyone around when they were together.
At first it had been innocent enough. Oliver saw things in Eric that were so familiar, so painful, he'd instantly wanted to protect and help him. In a matter of a few days, he'd started thinking about Eric for other reasons. He'd tried not to, had leaned on all his training, his reason, his common sense to drive those forbidden thoughts from his mind. None of it had worked. Even when he managed not to spend too much time with Eric on his mind during the day, he showed up in Oliver's dreams.
He'd even told himself that as much as it hurt, as much as it felt selfish to believe, maybe it was for the best that he couldn't see Eric in person anymore. Feeling the way he did made him sloppy, made him reckless. He thought about snapping at Haynes, how good it had felt to slam him against the wall, how satisfying to slowly dry his hands and stare at him as he took his time walking away and knowing the man was afraid. He thought about screaming in Governor Cardew's face I don't fucking care, I want him! and how on the nose that was, and how lucky he was they didn't suspect the depth of meaning behind it.
He couldn't slip that way and let his feelings override his ethics, couldn't do something that might end up setting Eric back or make Eric hate him. Even while telling himself that, he'd tried calling, and had planned to catch one or two of the guards on their way into work in the hope one might relay a message. He was desperate to make sure Eric understood that Oliver would still be there if he could, and he'd still try to help him in any way possible.
He hadn't been able to let Eric go. Oliver wondered if that would ever change.
His phone rang. "How is he?" Oliver blurted.
Neville huffed his exhale into the phone. His voice shook. "The bastards tried to kill my boy."
The raw emotion from someone hard-as-nails as Neville twisted Oliver's stomach. The plastic handset creaked in his grip, his fingers starting to sting. "How is he, Neville? Can I talk to him?"
"He's not here, is he? He don't know I'm callin' yet."
"But he's okay?"
"He'll be fine. He's a tough one. But it knocked him down a bit. Would anybody."
Oliver rubbed his hand over his forehead. 'Yes. I-I'm sure it would."
The sound of a lighter flicking was followed by a deep inhale. "I'm gonna give him this phone, with your number. 'Cause I know you give a shit. Don't know what your fucked up reasons are, but right now talkin’ to you is something—speaking as his father—I think he needs."
Despite how much there was to unpack and argue in what Neville just said, Oliver wouldn't risk the man's ire if it meant he got to talk to Eric. "I think you're right."
"Do ya? Well."
A long pause had Oliver fighting not to chew his thumbnail or rush the man to say something else.
"I know you look down your nose at me, but I’m his father."
“I don’t look down my—”
“Oh, fuckin’ with ya denyin’ it, don’t waste my fuckin’ time. I am still his father.”
"Yes, you are." Oliver clenched his jaw to keep from saying more.
"So as his father, I want you to help him, if you can. I'm not beggin' ya, mind. If you want to. But I think you do."
"I do. I absolutely do. Nev—"
"Okay, then. Do right by him." The line went dead.
"God damn it!” Oliver drew back his arm to throw the phone, then thought better of it. He had too many calls to make, and important ones to receive, to risk breaking the damn thing.
He’d give Eric his cell number when he called in case his temper won out next time.
Oliver called Dan Lafferty. They'd kept in touch since Dan had been part of his university training as a counselor. He’d always given the best advice. He had to leave a message, then he went through a few different calming exercises before he rang up Governor Cardew.
That he was actually put through to her on the first try spoke volumes about the seriousness of the situation.
"I told you he was in danger from staff," Oliver said. “I told you that, and they nearly killed him!" Oliver's insides shook. He hated confrontation, and had to keep such a tight rein on himself when it happened that sometimes he came off nervous, stammering, soft-spoken while he tried not to let his true feelings explode all over everyone. On the phone, he didn't have to fight so hard to look calm, so it was easier.
"Excuse me, Mr. Baumer, just where are you getting your information?"
“Good sources. Obviously not the news since it seems they haven't gotten wind of it. Yet."
"Are you threatening to report—"
"What steps have you taken to ensure that Eric Love is safe and getting proper medical and psychological treatment? Is he being protected from anyone else who might want to do him harm? Are all the men protected? Every last staff member involved needs to be brought up on charges of—”
“The matter is currently under investigation.” Christine Cardew was unflappable. "Deputy Governor Haynes and the guards involved are on administrative leave until we—"
“Leave?” He'd jabbed his finger in the air in the general direction of the prison while he spoke. “They should be in jail.”
“The investigation will determine whether that’s a viable course of action.”
In the several seconds of icy silence that followed, Oliver cleared his throat and took a deep breath. He spoke softer. "I was right, and you can see now that I was right. Governor, let me come back and help those men. Let me help Eric. What happened between me and Haynes was . . . it was an anomaly. Without him there, there won’t be—"
"What do you mean what happened between you?” She sounded genuinely confused
“I mean . . . when I left.”
“Haynes' report was that you were unhappy about the fundamental disagreement between you about the value of your therapy sessions. Isn't that accurate?"
It's not like Oliver had left himself a choice but to leave after wrapping his hands around Haynes’ throat. He scrambled for something to say. Haynes either hadn't told her what happened in the men's room, or she was willing to pretend she didn't know. He didn't care which it was. "Yes. Yes, you could certainly call it a disagreement."
"He personally felt you'd abandoned the program because it wasn't working and that you'd essentially given up on the men involved, but he was surprised after the way you'd defended them and their progress for so long. The men in your sessions were greatly disappointed when he told them. I'll admit I was surprised to see you go, as well."
"What did he tell them?"
"I don't know exactly. I'm sure he simply told them you'd moved on, but I wasn't there. "
He wanted to punch something again, but guessed he should probably be grateful that Haynes was sadistic enough to lie to them. If he'd told the truth to anyone, who knows whether Cardew would have even taken his call. She’d have been smart not to.
She continued: "I know Haynes felt you were too easy on the men, coddling them and rewarding them for bad behavior. It did seem that way to me too, at times, particularly in the case of Eric Love. Recent events . . . are causing me to rethink the issue."
The silence went on so long he thought she might have hung up. Then she said, "I think you should come back. It's going to take me some time to make the arrangements, since, as you're aware, we're in the middle of an investigation of employee impropriety.”
“Impropriety. Is that really what you’re going to call attempted fucking murder?”
“Until the investigation concludes, yes it is. I appreciate your passion, Mr. Baumer, I really do, but this will be carried out according to protocol. Including any official reports that are given to the media. I hope that's perfectly clear.” Her sharp tone dropped a little. “Look, once things have settled a bit, we'll get you reprocessed so you can start the therapy sessions again. And you will report directly to me once you're back. Is this acceptable to you?”
"I—yes. Yes, of course. Thank you, Governor."
"I'll be in touch."
Oliver closed his eyes and thought about what Tyrone or Hassan must have thought when they were told he’d walked out on them. He knew how Haynes probably told them. Fucker could probably barely contain his glee at telling them that. At least some of them might have suspected Haynes was full of shit. He hoped.
The thought that Eric might believe Oliver gave up on him, that had worried him from the moment he got in his car, trembling with rage after handing over his badge and keys. Of everyone in his sessions, Eric was the one he’d worried about the most because their breakthroughs were so fresh and tenuous. It’d be so easy for Eric to say fuck it and revert right back to the man he was the day he transferred there.
Oliver hated himself for losing his temper and losing those sessions, and had vowed to work on himself even more than he already did, every day. If he could fuck up the thing he needed most in the world by letting his anger slip out, he clearly had a lot more work to do. It wrecked him to think that if he'd had just a little more control, he'd have been there all this time, and maybe Eric wouldn’t have ended up nearly hanged to death in his cell.
Oliver balled his shaking hand into a fist and counted slowly down from twenty.
That night, half past three, Oliver's phone rang. He'd been sure he wouldn't sleep when he'd crawled into bed, but had dozed off with the phone in his hand after some calming exercises and deep breathing. He scrambled to answer before he was fully awake, his dry mouth making words a challenge. "Yeah, yes, Eric?" he managed.
Eric's tone was amused, though it sounded like he’d been gargling with gravel. "Just wake up, or you gotta mouthful of somethin' good?"
Relief flooded through him at how normal Eric sounded despite the hoarse voice. "How are you?"
"Always alright, ain't I?"
Oliver rolled onto his back and stared up at the dark ceiling. "Eric. How are you?"
Eric's swallow was audible. He sniffed. "Yeah, I'm doin' okay. I am."
"Whatever Haynes said about the way I left—"
"Fuck that motherfucker. We all knew he cut you loose."
Oliver didn't correct him, because he wasn't prepared to explain what happened. "Good. Don't get caught with the phone."
"Nah, gotta good hiding place." He laughed softly. "Shoulda seen me dad when he gave it to me, asking if I had a spot then shaking his head, like he’d been dumb for askin’. You came outta these balls, didn't ya? he said. You'll figure it out."
"Do you feel safe right now, Eric?"
"The ones did it ain't here, the rest are hands-off but keepin' an eye out. They put us back in our normal cells, said that was best for now, with extra watchin' overnight."
"Good. Stay out of your cell during the day so you're alone less. Just in case?"
Eric laughed, then coughed. "As if I could be alone. Ty and Hassan won't fucking get more'n inch away from me."
Warmth spread through Oliver. He wasn't surprised, but it felt good to hear. "I spoke to Governor Cardew today. She's letting me come back."
"No fucking way!" The happiness in Eric's voice was a balm.
"It might take a little while, but unless she changes her mind, yeah."
"That's . . . that’s good news. Can I tell 'em?"
"Ty and Hassan, yes, but keep it between you, just in case. I tried to contact you, but Haynes wouldn't let anything through. I hadn't given up on you. On any of you."
"I figured. We all did, really."
"Eric . . . I'm so sorry." Oliver's eyes stung. "I'm sorry I wasn't there."
"Ain't your fault, is it? Wasn't nothin' you could've done." The sound of a distant shout, something happening on the floor but not near Eric's cell, came through the phone. Eric said, "I gotta go," then the call clicked off.
Oliver stared at the phone, then put it next to his pillow in case Eric called again. Now that he was going back, he should work hard at trying to keep his thoughts more professional, even to focus his dreams toward something inane and harmless, if he could. He'd never been good at influencing his dreams like some people were, but he really didn't have a choice but to try, did he?
When he dreamt of Eric, sometimes it was about that first day when Eric bodychecked him into the corner and Oliver put his arms around him, protecting him from the guards. The guards disappeared, Eric kept pressing in, Oliver kept holding him tight. Sometimes he pushed Eric into the corner, with no guards around, and dropped to his knees. Sometimes they were in a session, just the two of them, and without realizing how they got their clothes off Eric was driving into him and saying his name like it tasted sweet in his mouth.
It was wrong for him to have waking thoughts like that about Eric. The things he dreamed, even as much as Oliver leaned toward self-blame and guilt, at least for those he was blameless.
It was wrong to like the dreams so much, though. And it was wrong to wrap his hand around his cock when he woke from those dreams in a sweat, hard and ready to whistle like a kettle at full boil. But he did every time. He did it after waking thoughts about Eric, too, waking fantasies that got more and more detailed with each replaying. And he reached for himself now, telling himself it was partly from relief at hearing Eric's voice and knowing he was okay.
As wrong as he knew it was, every fucking time, he doubted whether could make himself stop.
Eric called the next night, their conversation much the same. How are you, do you feel safe, stay around Tyrone and Hassan. Then Eric told him about an argument he'd had that day while lifting weights where he wanted to pound the guy. Tyrone got between them and cooled things off. "I wanted to clock him, just bash his head in."
"I'm glad Tyrone was there." Oliver rubbed his forehead. "Remember, Eric, if you did something like that, you'd jeopardize your chance of being part of the therapy sessions. You could end up sent somewhere else, somewhere I can't go."
"That's the thing, Oliver. Tyrone got between us, and I did want to smash that fucker, but I think I might not've. It's hard for me to believe, but I think maybe I could've walked away if Tyrone hadn't jumped in first."
"That's good, Eric. Do you know what you were thinking at the time?"
"I didn't want to go back to lock-up by myself. What happened last time, and all. I dream about that sometimes, wake up chokin' like it just happened again."
"That's normal, but I know it must be frightening. We can talk about that, if—"
"Then I thought about you. How you looked at me when I took shit in session and didn't give back, like you felt proud or somethin'. And the anger in me sorta started to go somewhere else."
"I was proud of you, Eric. I am proud of you. And you should be proud of yourself. Remember that feeling, the strength you have that makes that possible. Remember that next time you get angry."
"If it'd been a week ago, my old man needlin' me that way . . ."
"He doesn't have the tools you're learning to use. So you have to be twice as strong when it comes to him. And I know you can be. I've seen it in you."
"We're alright now, me 'n him. Probably stay that way since he's going off." Eric sighed heavily. "Says we'll write. Can't bash each other's brains in through a letter, at least."
"Do you think it's for the best?"
"So do I."
Eric's breathing sounded closer and heavier. "Any idea when you'll be back?"
"I probably won't hear anything for a while."
"My dad and Ashley, they're both broken up about him leaving. We can't fight through letters, but they can't fuck, either."
"They'll stay in touch. The emotional connection they have won't be broken just because they're not together."
"I hope not. I'm not as down on that as I was. I mean, what's it matter, right?" Eric sniffed.
"It shouldn't really matter to anyone but them."
"I'm seein' it more and more that way. I mean, you can't help what you like. Right?"
Oliver swallowed hard. "No, you can't."
"Like you kept sayin' all the fuckin' time, it's okay to feel your feelings." He chuckled. "Jesus christ, if anyone'd ever told me I'd be sayin' shit like that."
"It's a good thing to say," Oliver said with a laugh. "A good one to keep in mind. You feel whatever you feel, and that's okay. What you do about how you feel is the only thing that matters."
"Hassan told me—"
The line went dead. Either the call dropped or Eric's phone ran out of charge. He didn't call back, and Oliver tried not to think too hard about the things Eric said about Neville and Ashley. It was good that he was coming to accept it, but it didn't mean anything beyond that. It didn't mean he'd accept Oliver's feelings if he knew about them.
What you do about how you feel is the only thing that matters.
Eric called the next night, his phone had died, and he didn't remember what he was about to tell Oliver. Something Hassan said that was funny, he guessed. They talked about the same types of things, how someone pissed Eric off but he thought about the consequences, and Oliver, then let it go, even when nobody was pulling him away or trying to push the other guy back.
Their conversation jumped from topic to topic, because Oliver let Eric lead it. He wanted to talk more about Eric's nightmares and his fears revolving around isolation, fears about his safety, and talk about things he could do if those feelings bubbled up unexpectedly, but he didn't want to push him into a topic he wasn't ready for.
Eventually, Eric brought up his dad and Ashley again, talking about how people couldn't help what they wanted, and it was okay no matter what some punters thought. Again, Oliver had to tell himself not to read anything into it. Eric was just trying to be okay with the state of things, that was all. And that was good.
"Ash's actin' like he's some sort of father figure to me or somethin' just because he was fucking my old man. Tryin' to take me under his wing."
"How does that make you feel?"
"I'll sound like a pussy if I say it."
"No, you won't."
After a long moment of silence, Eric cleared his throat, his voice softer. "I kinda like it. He's nice enough, isn't he? I mean, he does care about the old man. So maybe he cares about his kid, too?"
"You're right to like Ashley's attention. It feels good to be cared about. It's supposed to feel good, Eric." Oliver's throat tightened, and his eyes stung. How fucking cruel was it that Eric had lived to be nineteen and had only just started to discover that.
Silence stretched out again, then Eric said. "Gotta go."
He called back the next night, and for several more nights their conversation stayed the same, though it got longer each time. Once, Oliver thought Eric had fallen asleep on the phone and might get caught with it the next morning. His breathing had changed, was louder, closer, but he raised his voice and got Eric's attention.
Oliver lay staring at the ceiling, wearing only pajama bottoms, the thin sheet down to his waist because the room was warm. He'd napped earlier, as he'd been doing every day since the nightly phone calls interrupted his sleep. When he answered the expected call, before he could say hello, Eric spoke first.
"I think about you a lot, after we talk." Eric's hoarseness had faded away now, his throat mostly healed, but the quality of his voice was different, like he needed to swallow.
"I think about you, too. You're on my mind a lot, Eric. How I wish I'd been there. How I can hopefully help you now and when I get back."
"Fuckin', I mean . . . I think about you."
Oliver took a breath through his open mouth and rested his hand on his stomach, his body reacting instantly. He clenched his jaw. "Okay."
"The fuck, man? Don't just say okay. What does that mean?"
"I mean it's okay for you to think about me like that." So many things Eric had said about his dad and Ashley, how he was coming around to it, how people felt what they felt, burned paths through Oliver's brain right down his body.
Rustling sheets hissed into the phone as Eric moved in his bunk. "I can't talk to my dad about it, not that I would after calling him a fucking poofter and getting whacked for it. He ain't here anyway, even if I wanted to."
Thank the universe for small favors. Even with a newfound ease between them, having Eric and his father together had been tragically misguided. Having this discussion about such a sensitive subject would have probably ended up with both of them locked down again, bruised and bloodied. "It's all right to feel however you feel, Eric. You know that. And you can write it down to him, even if you end up not sending that and writing something else."
"That's a lot nicer than what he'd say."
Oliver chuckled. "Probably."
"I thought about you last night. And it got me wonderin' if you ever think about anybody, like that."
Oliver took a slow, deep breath in through his nostrils.
He'd barely been able to get to sleep thinking about Eric. And as much as he tried not to think about him in anything but a professional way, hearing his voice had an affect on Oliver that was hard to resist. He'd had to tell himself it was all right to feel whatever he felt, then try to focus on how he could help Eric going forward. Maybe being completely honest was the best thing he could do? Even if he somehow didn't end up back at the prison, as long as they could talk, maybe he could do some good. But not if he lied. The last thing Eric Love needed was someone lying to him for his own good.
"I do. I think almost everyone does, at least from time to time."
"I mean, about another bloke?"
Eric's breathing was the only sound for a few minutes. Then, "Do you ever think about me?"
Oliver closed his eyes. "Of course I do. I told you I did, all the time."
"About trying to help me, yeah. That's not what I mean."
Oliver thought of Dan, what he might say Oliver ought to do in this situation. What his own ethics knew was right and wrong. But it wasn't that simple, was it? Eric had been abused since he was small, plunged into a system that doesn't care about him, neglected, manipulated, lied to at every turn. It was complicated. And when things were complicated, the truth was the simplest thing to fall back on.
"Yes, I've thought of you like that, Eric."
Eric inhaled sharply.
"I shouldn't have, and I'm sorry."
"Ain't bothered. Kinda glad since I said as much. Can I ask you something else?"
The simplest truth of all: "You can ask me anything."
Eric said it slowly, his voice low and deep, yet it sounded as innocent as it did seductive. "You ever have another man's cock in your mouth?"
Oliver rested his hand on his crotch. Whether the weight of it on his cock was to stop what was happening or be ready when it did, he didn't know or care.
"You have, really? A lot?"
"God," Eric blurted with a soft laugh. "I'll remember that for later. "
It was Oliver's turn to suck in a breath. He pulled his pajamas away from his skin. "So have you."
"The first time I ever laid eyes on you, Eric, you had another man's cock in your mouth."
Eric laughed too loudly, then quieted himself. "Officer Johnson's Johnson. Right. Wasn't suckin' it, though."
"Well, you didn't specify."
"I wouldn't do something like that. You know, to you. Bitin', at least."
Oliver licked his lips and pressed the heel of his palm against the base of his cock. He bit back what he wanted to say. What the hell was he doing? Thinking was one thing. This conversation . . . was another. They were like teenagers dancing around each other, flirting, doing the kind of thing Eric should have been doing with someone in high school long before now. But Oliver wasn't a teenager. Damn it, why couldn't he stop?
"I didn't think you would bite me, Eric."
The line went dead, and after about five minutes Eric hadn't called back. Probably bad reception. Oliver kept the phone on the mattress next to him, in case. He thought about Eric even more than he had the night before, and when he touched himself, guilt and arousal mixing together into something brand new for him, he thought about how Eric would look glancing up at him, and tried to figure out whether he'd look innocent and eager, or shrewd, like he knew he had Oliver just where he wanted him.
Both ideas appealed far too much.
The next morning, Oliver put in another call to Dan, and one to Marcus Lee, an old professor of his who had enjoyed discussing ethics and the responsibilities of counselors. His service said he was on vacation for two weeks, but there was a number he could be reached at in case of emergencies. This wasn't urgent enough he wanted to disturb Marcus' vacation, especially since they hadn't talked in a long time. He called a couple other friends, not ones he'd give details to but ones he could be vague with and maybe get some perspective. Of course they were at work and unable to talk, but he hadn't thought of that.
Oliver needed to be talked down from what was happening, but no one was available to take his calls.
That was no excuse, but he clung to it anyway.
"I've never done it, you know." Eric's voice sounded strained.
They'd talked for a while, and as usual Eric had brought the conversation to him thinking about Oliver. Even with Dan's and Marcus' disapproving faces in his mind, and the thought of being stripped of his credentials for getting involved with someone he counseled, he couldn't stop his hand sliding down his body. He hated himself for it, but it was just one more chuck of wood to add to that already crackling fire.
"I gathered as much."
"Sometimes I think if I could, I wouldn't get as angry all the time. It'd be a relief of something."
Oliver focused on the important part of what he was saying. "The anger you feel, Eric, doesn't come from not having sex. So many things have happened to you, and you can't change those, but you can make the choice to change things going forward."
"I know, Oliver, I know. You've said it a hundred times," he said with no annoyance, but something like affection. "I can quote ya, remember?"
"But don't you ever feel like you need to nut so bad that it'd make everything better if you could?"
"You can make yourself feel better without anyone else around."
"Not the same, is it? Someone else's hand gotta be different."
Cold water poured over Oliver to think that no one had ever touched Eric at all with the intent to give him pleasure. He knew he'd never had sex because he'd admitted as much in session. And he'd been touched, but when he was too young by someone only interested in taking. He'd been in institutions most of his life, so it made sense he'd never had a regular date or made out with a girl, or boy, in the backseat of a car.
He'd been robbed of so much.
"Pretend it's someone else's hand."
"I do, sometimes. But I yank the same, you know." Eric's breath caught, making it obvious what he was doing. "I want . . ."
This felt like Oliver's last chance to end what was happening here. He almost, almost, took the coward's way out and hung up to pretend they'd been cut-off when Eric called back later or the next night. But he wouldn't risk Eric thinking that was a lie.
"What do you want, Eric? You can tell me."
"Fuck," he whispered out slow. "I want to know what it's like. You touchin' me."
Oliver tried. He started to form the words to say we can't do this, Eric. I can't be this to you and help you at the same time. Maybe if he'd believed any of that were true, he might have actually had a chance.
For all his self-talk about how it was wrong to want Eric, how he needed to stop, how he would stop before he went back, Oliver had to face the hard, cold truth: he was a fucking hypocrite.
"It's my hand, Eric."
Oliver wrapped his fingers around himself, and followed his own instructions. "My hand's around your cock, and I'm going slowly. There's no hurry."
Eric's breathing sped up.
Oliver stroked himself a few times, at a loss about what to say. He'd never done anything like this before. It didn't feel unnatural, exactly, but it didn't seem like there was much to say about a handjob. He closed his eyes and tried to picture it.
"You're lying in your bed, in the dark, and I'm there with you, next to you, my hand on you, stroking you slowly. You want to go faster, you're used to doing it fast, but I want to take my time. I want you to feel so good."
Eric's breathing came in short, sharp pants.
Oliver stroked himself fast and hard, like he imaged Eric might. He could see it clearly, Eric struggling with the slow pace, thrusting, eager for more, and Oliver trying to slow him down.
"You're so hard and slick, fucking into my fist, and I tighten my grip to slow—"
Eric made a strangled sound, then a shuddering breath hissed into the phone like his mouth was pressed against it. Oliver doubled his speed, the sound of Eric's pleasure sending an ache through him.
Eric sounded wrecked when he asked, "Am I touchin' you?"
Eric didn't try to describe what was happening, and Oliver didn't need him to. Then Eric said, "I want to fuck you so bad. You ever think about that?"
Oliver's back arched as his grip tightened. "Yes."
"I want to hear you."
Oliver let him. He came with a shout and stroked until he couldn't stand it anymore, soft sounds that surprised him dragging out. "That was so good," he finally breathed when he was trying to catch his breath.
Eric didn't answer, and the line clicked off.
All the next day, every time Oliver wondered if Eric had gotten overwhelmed by letting himself be that vulnerable that he'd hung up, or if things would be different between them now, or if Eric had changed his mind about anything, he let himself feel the misery of wondering and told himself he deserved every bit of it for letting things go that far in the first place.
He called Marcus again, just in case he'd gotten back early and he might catch him, but he still wasn't due back from his vacation for a couple of days. He didn't call the number for emergencies. A few more days wouldn't matter.
Eric called the next night and made no mention of their previous call or what had happened when the line went dead. Oliver didn't push.
"So why do you do it, Ol?"
He liked hearing Eric use the name some of the other guys used. Liked the familiarity of it. "I like helping people. And it helps me, too."
"How's it help you?"
"It reinforces the things I already know. I use the techniques I teach you, every day. Have for a long time."
"That's how you can stand there, somebody screaming in your face, and look down at the floor instead of punching 'em in the mouth."
"I never seen nobody do that before. You stood there between those guys time after time, all the anger hittin' you, and you just took it. How'd you not get pounded in school never fightin' back?"
Oliver laughed, the question catching him by surprise. "When I was in school, I wouldn't have done that. I got in trouble all the time. I always fought back, and it never got me anything but fat lips, black eyes and demerits. The headmaster had me in his office constantly. His approach to discipline was simple. He had a wooden paddle, thick as my arm. He'd make you bend over his desk, bare-assed, and then he'd hit you until you cried."
"Fucker. Sounds like a fucking pervert."
Oliver didn't doubt it, frankly. "I always tried not to cry, and one time I didn't. He hit me so long and so hard, I still have back problems I see a chiropractor for. He only stopped because I think he was afraid he might kill me."
"But it must've worked, right?"
"It only made me angrier, Eric. I learned to express it in private, usually only hurting myself in the process, so I wouldn't have to go to his office." Memories of his constantly scraped, swollen knuckles, and even headaches from cracking his forehead against the wall, set a sinking feeling in his gut. Those days are over, Oliver. You've changed.
"What were you so angry about? Rich family, boarding school, the whole lot. Had it a fuck of a lot easier than I ever did."
Oliver pushed down the bristling feeling that came with hearing that. "I know I did. I'm not trying to compare our situations at all. I'm just explaining that I didn't get a grip on dealing with anger or strong emotions in a healthier way until I was out of school. I got into some trouble when I was a kid, and my uncle decided that regular whippings, shouting, making me do lots of physical work, was the best way forward for me. I didn't get a lot of attention otherwise, except from my granny who I didn't get to see that much after I got into trouble, and I guess I felt neglected. I was sent to boarding school so my family didn't have to deal with me. Made me angrier."
Even Oliver could hear the poor little rich kid in his story, but it was the truth, and Eric deserved that much. He expected Eric might call him on it, mock him or belittle him in some way, but he didn't say anything else about Oliver's past.
"I don't think I was ever spanked, the proper way."
"There is no proper way, as far as I'm concerned."
"It's not like getting whacked upside the head, though, or having somethin' else done to ya."
"No, it's not. But it's also still one person hitting another."
Eventually, Eric brought the conversation around to the place that Oliver both anticipated and dreaded. "What happened last night, I thought about a lot today. Had to find some private time once 'cause of it. And I do feel better."
"I'm glad you do. But it won't solve any problems, just remember that."
Eric breathed into the phone and moaned softly. "But it'll solve a problem I'm havin' right now."
Oliver's hand found his cock, and all his resolve melted away. "Tell me what you want."
"I'm on the bed, and you're kneeling in front of me?"
Oliver had pictured that so many times before, it came naturally. He was already stroking himself when he said, "I'm touching you, licking my lips because I want to suck your cock so much I can already taste it."
Muffled sounds carried through the phone as Oliver described everything he would do with his lips, his tongue, and when Eric said, his voice breaking, "I'm gonna grab the back of your neck and fuck your mouth" Oliver's body snapped taut as he came.
A few of the guards shook Oliver's hand as he strode into the prison, but most ignored him like they usually did. A few new faces were there among the familiar, and Governor Cardew's face was surprisingly lovely to see, absence from her and the prison obviously making Oliver fonder. The fact that he would be permitted to have private counseling sessions with a few of the men, the ones he thought would most benefit from it, made him like her even more.
When the men filed into the room for his first session back, there were back pats and shoulder hugs, but Tyrone and Hassan both shook his hand and pulled him in for a quick embrace. Eric came in last, Oliver's whole body warming at the sight of him. Eric gave him a fist-bump and smile and sat on the opposite side of the circle from him.
He'd anticipated a hug. Wanted it more than he liked to admit. But he wasn't surprised not to get one. Eric probably still felt the need to appear tough in front of others, and maybe their newfound intimacy had made it awkward for him.
He put that aside, and started the session as if their last one had been yesterday.
Oliver had just finished a session in one of the rooms set up for counseling and one-on-one meetings, a windowless, fairly joyless room with posters on the walls about programs that help convicts adapt to life on the outside once they're released. The door creaked. Eric stood in the doorway, hands in his pockets, a guard behind him with a sour look on his face. Jason Franks.
"He wants a meeting with you if you've got time."
Oliver jumped up and took Eric's arm, gently pulling him into the room. "I do, thank you."
Franks closed the door, his eyes appearing in the viewslot for a moment before he stepped away, no doubt waiting next to the door for Eric to leave or Oliver to shout for help. Oliver motioned at the chair and sat in the opposite one, but Eric didn't sit. He stood directly in front of Oliver until Oliver stood again.
Eric pulled him into a fierce hug, his face pressed against Oliver's neck.
Franks stepped in. "You alright?"
"We're fine, Jason." Oliver waved him away and returned the hug just as tightly. "I promise, it's fine."
Any other guard would probably break them up, but Franks had been the one to tell him what happened in the first place. Franks sighed. "Just . . . don't get me into trouble," he said, then he shut the door again.
Eric didn't let go. He held onto Oliver a long time before he stepped back, his hands still on Oliver's arms. Oliver smiled to see him looking so happy. "What did you want to talk about, Eric?"
"Nothin'. Just wanted to do that."
Eric cupped Oliver's neck, almost like he might pull him into a kiss, but he cut his eyes toward the door and stepped back. Oliver looked, too. Franks didn't appear to be watching.
"Since you're here, we might as well talk. About whatever you want."
"I told Ashley."
A shiver laddered its way up Oliver's back. If Eric told anybody about what they'd been doing, it could be used as leverage against him. "About?"
"Thinking about a bloke. Don't worry, I know how bad it'd be to name names."
"How did it feel to tell him?"
Eric paced back and forth, slow and calm. "Scary. But then good. Fuck, he hugged me like it made us brothers or somethin'."
"In some ways, it does."
Eric cracked his knuckles and twisted his fingers together. "Now that you're back here, you know, I can still call, right?"
"Of course. I want you to. Anytime."
Eric faced away from him. "I want to all the time. If I called as often as I thought about it, you'd never do anything else but talk to me. You'll get sick of me soon enough as it is."
Oliver stood and approached him, aware that they'd be out of the view of the door. He hoped Franks trusted him enough to not barge in, even if he was still watching at all. He put a hand on Eric's shoulder. "I won't get sick of you, Eric. That's not how it works."
Eric turned and wrapped his arms around Oliver again, even tighter than before. Oliver rubbed the back of his neck.
Franks didn't open the door. Eric must have realized that at the same time because he turned them, pushing Oliver toward the wall, until they were against it and Eric made a sound like a sob as he rolled his body forward against Oliver.
"Eric," Oliver whispered. He didn't try to stop him, if anything his hands pulling Eric tight to him were encouraging, but if they got caught, if Franks looked and couldn't see them and found them like this . . .
Eric rut against him, fucking against Oliver's hip, his fingers digging into Oliver's shoulders. He pressed his mouth against Oliver's neck, his breath coming in hot gasps as he thrust, his whole body trembling so much Oliver wondered if he might be, too. Oliver's hand pressed against the nape of his neck, the other against his back, and let him have what he needed.
Eric shuddered and made a sound that broke Oliver's heart, then tilted his head back to look into his eyes. His mouth hung open, his lips wet and pink, his eyes almost glazed. Oliver kept stroking the back of his neck, not wanting to do or say anything to ruin the moment for him.
Without moving away, Eric squeezed his hand between them and into Oliver's trousers, then stroked him as fast and hard as Oliver had imagined he would. He stared into Oliver's eyes as he brought him off, licking his lips when Oliver gasped, trying to be quiet for a change, thrusting into Eric's tight grip.
Eric leaned forward until his lips brushed against Oliver's, and Oliver realized he was waiting for a kiss, probably unsure about what to do. So Oliver kissed him, soft and slow, more gently than he might have ever kissed anyone in his life, like if he wasn't careful Eric might break to pieces right in his arms.
Eric stepped back. He straightened Oliver's clothes. Oliver couldn't seem to keep his hand away from Eric's face or his neck, petting him, soothing, trying to make everything about it something Eric could think back on and remember as being cared for.
"Are you okay?" Oliver asked as they moved back to the chairs.
"Fuckin' kiddin' me?" he said with a grin. "Okay don't get fuckin' close."
Franks opened the door not long after that, and Eric went back to his wing. He didn't call that night, and Oliver once again told himself he deserved the anxiety of wondering why. He deserved so much worse. It was storming, and sometimes cell service didn't work well. He hoped that was all it was.
He went to Eric's cell the next day, just to make sure he was okay. And to tell him they could continue the phone calls as they had, but what had happened yesterday was too risky for either of them.
Eric couldn't get the call to go through last night, so all Oliver's worries had been for nothing. They talked for a few minutes, the same kinds of things they talked about on the phone, though Oliver could barely concentrate. He kept thinking about Eric's hands on him, his mouth, the vulnerable, soft look in his eyes when he watched Oliver come.
"You know when you won me over?" Eric said.
"When you came to, um, escort me to a session like I was your fuckin' date or something."
Oliver smiled. "That's all it took? Walking you from place to place?"
"Wasn't just that. You protected me from the guards when they would've beaten me down. Like, put your body between us. Nobody'd ever protected me before, so I was already lookin' at ya different. And then when you came to get me for group, I talked a bunch of shit to you and you admitted you wanted to hurt me. You're honest, man. And you treat people nice, even when they don't deserve it."
"Everybody deserves to be treated nice."
"No, not everybody."
"Whether or not, you believe it, and I like that."
"You do, Eric."
"Lucky for me, I've got you to do it then, huh?"
"Lucky for you." Oliver touched his lip and stepped inside, pulling the door halfway shut to afford them just a little more privacy. "About that. What happened yesterday, we shouldn't—"
"Here we go."
"No, Eric, you need to let me finish."
Eric took a deep breath, then nodded.
"We shouldn't take risks like that. I definitely would be allowed to lead group meetings here anymore."
"I'd tell 'em I forced you."
"God damn it, Eric. And how many years do you think that would add to your sentence. Of course I wouldn't let them believe that."
"So we've both got plenty of reason to be careful. We can be. We were, right? I knew he wasn't watchin' or he'd have already had the door open when you got up."
"Eric, think about the consequences."
"I am. And what about this, Oliver, why didn't you push me away, huh? Why'd you let me if it was so fuckin' risky?" Eric stepped toward him, shoulders hunched, a move that would intimidate most people, but Oliver held his ground.
Alarms blared. Guards shouted. The sound of doors slamming rose above all of it.
Jason Franks whipped Eric's door open. "Lockdown."
Oliver started to follow him, but Eric grabbed his arm. "No." His voice cracked. Eric's eyes, usually hard, curious, sometimes full of humor, were terrified.
"Baumer, it was an escape attempt. We've got to lock down everything, and it'll be a fucking while. Come on."
Oliver looked between them. "He has considerable trauma from the last time he was locked in alone."
"You mean like every night since?"
"A prison-wide lockdown's different, and you know it. After what he's been through, it could only make his trauma worse." Oliver tilted his head. "Let me stay with him."
Franks chewed the inside of his cheek. "Fuck." He glanced back outside, then pointed at Oliver. "I didn't fucking see you in here." He slammed the door, and the lock clanked into place.
When Oliver turned, Eric's arms came around him, his whole body shaking. Oliver rubbed the back of his neck and held him tight until it passed. "It's okay. You're not alone."
"You really trust me enough to be locked in here." Eric sniffed against Oliver's neck. "Probably makes you stupid."
Oliver laughed. "If you say so."
"I'm serious, Ol. Why would you do it? Why did you ever fuckin' want to help a useless piece of shit like me?"
Oliver pushed him back enough to look into his eyes. "Don't ever talk about yourself that way. You're not a useless piece of shit. You're someone nobody ever gave enough of a chance."
"You don't know that."
He gripped Eric's neck and groaned, gritting his teeth together in an exasperated grimace. "Yes, Eric, I fucking do! Don't you get it? I looked at you and saw me. If I hadn't been from a wealthy family who sent me to boarding school to keep me out of trouble, and my family hadn't donated lots of money to that school so that when I broke Alex Peltson's arm in three places and sent Jackson Grimm to the hospital with a shattered collarbone the headmaster was willing to smooth it over with their parents and discipline me personally instead of calling the police, I could be where you are right now. It's not fucking fair that you didn't have the same chances I did, that you didn't get the help I got eventually. You deserved so much more than you were given. And it can't be fixed, but I can't try to make things better for you now. That's why I do it. Because I know the hell my life could have been, and it breaks my heart that it was yours."
He blinked back tears that tried to fall. "While we're being so fucking honest, you should know that Haynes didn't fire me. I had to leave because I got physically violent with him. I'm not perfect. I still have work to do, Eric. I lost it, and it cost me being able to lead the group and see you. It's hard to stay in control all the time. When I tell you that, it's not lip service. I know."
Eric embraced him. "What'd he do? Haynes."
After everything he said, there was no point in not being honest now, as sick as it made his stomach feel when he thought about it. "He talked about you like you were an animal, about how you need to be in prison for the rest of your life, and I . . snapped."
They held each other for a long time until Eric said, "What I asked before the alarms went off . . . so why didn't you push me away yesterday if it was so risky?"
"Because I didn't want you to stop. Because I keep telling myself we can't, but the minute I see you all the consequences disappear, all my professional ethics fly out the fucking window, and I just want to touch you. I told you I'm not perfect."
Eric pressed his body tighter against Oliver, his cock already hard between them. "What would you do if I wasn't in here? If we were at your house, in your bed?"
Oliver swallowed and let Eric push him backward until he was against the door. In this room there was nowhere to go they wouldn't be in sight of it, but with the lockdown, the guards were busy. They had time before anyone would check on Eric, and even then it would probably be Franks. Maybe it could be okay. Still, they slid to the side, almost in the corner, so their heads wouldn't be directly in front of the viewslot.
Oliver put his hand against Eric's check, brushed his thumb over Eric's lips. "I'd take my time, make love to you slowly, take you apart bit by bit until you lost your mind. Then I'd do it again."
Eric's mouth latched onto his, the kiss rough, teeth raking, his tongue twisting around Oliver's. He spun Oliver and thrust his hips forward, rutting against him while Oliver unfastened his trousers.
Eric gasped, his cock sliding against Oliver's bare skin. "I don't—"
"Spit, or something there." Oliver pointed at the little counter with its snacks, cigarettes and little bottles of things that would probably do in a pinch.
When Eric pressed inside him, Oliver groaned and let his head drop forward. It hurt a little, a familiar ache he hadn't felt in a long time, but that was gone almost instantly, replaced by nothing but pleasure. Eric's hand found him, the strokes rough and frantic, and then Eric's mouth pressed against the back of his neck. He had to brace his hands against the wall to keep from being slammed into it.
"Oliver," Eric gasped as he drove forward hard enough one of Oliver's feet came off the floor. Oliver thrust into Eric's tight fist and clenched his jaw as he came so he wouldn't shout like he did when they were on the phone.
Eric mouthed at the back of his neck, his arms tight around Oliver's body. "See, we can be careful. It'll be okay."
Oliver didn't answer. He focused on the feeling of Eric inside him, against him, and vowed to remember it in case they couldn't find a way to make it happen again, for a while. In case he got some sense and didn't let it happen again, ever. He'd gotten a reprieve when Haynes hadn't told the truth. A second chance. Was he really about to risk losing his career again?
He turned, and Eric kissed him, and the only thought in his head was he's worth it.
Franks was the one who opened the door, some time later. They sat on Eric's bed talking, an appropriate distance apart. They'd heard the door locks slam open one by one well ahead of time and gotten into position. Franks held the door, the look on his face unreadable. Oliver gave Eric, sleepy-eyed and smiling, a quick wave and left the room.
Before he'd gotten to the cell that served as his office, Oliver's phone rang. Marcus Lee.
"Hey, Marcus. How was your vacation?"
"I've had better, but at least I wasn't working. How have you been?"
"I'm doing okay."
"I got your message, and I've got a little time now. You said there was something you wanted to talk about?"
"Thank you, Marcus, there was. But the problem has worked itself out."
"Glad to hear it. We should get together one day soon. It's been too long, Oliver."
He agreed, then slipped his phone into his pocket and went to get ready for group.